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How the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle leveraged local media partnerships to raise $200,000 for BackPack Buddies

The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is an incredible nonprofit organization that fights every day to provide food for North Carolinians who struggle with frequent, regular food insecurity. This work is done through several initiatives, like BackPack Buddies, Mobile Markets, the Mobile Tastiness Machine and more.

Sara Walker, the Director of Communications for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, shares her experience with the organization and their hugely successful #BackPackBuddies Mediathon that took place on July 24 of this year.

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got started with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. What are all of the issues your organization is trying to solve?

Of course! I was working for a for-profit company and we hosted a large fundraiser for the Food Shuttle’s BackPack Buddies program. I was instantly taken with the mission and the team over at the Food Shuttle. A little less than a year later I came to the Food Shuttle to help with their communications and marketing.

We consider ourselves at the Food Shuttle a non-traditional food bank, meaning we take a holistic approach to fighting hunger. We have a 10-acre farm that helps us provide the healthiest possible food to those in need, but we also focus on nutrition and gardening education so that we can build the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices. The Food Shuttle feeds, teaches and grows to create a healthy and hunger-free North Carolina – and it’s a really inspiring place to work!

Q: What inspired Backpack Buddies, specifically, and how did it come to make the impact it does today?

BackPack Buddies is a program that provides weekend meals to kids in need during the school year. The idea was simple enough, many children rely on free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch for meals during the school days, and it can often be the only meal they eat that day. So what happens when they go on the weekends? We realized that kids were coming back to school on Mondays hungry and unable to focus in the classroom.  BackPack Buddies provides six meals and two snacks for the weekends, we make them as healthy as possible while ensuring it’s shelf-stable and food that kids can fix on their own.

We now supply 2,400 bags every week to kids in our service area. It makes a tremendous impact, we anonymously survey our schools, parents and children and one child described his backpack as giving him ‘hope.’  No child should have to worry about where their next meal comes from, and BackPack Buddies is a way for us to work towards that goal.

Q: Your #BackPackBuddies Mediathon was an incredible success. Tell me a little about what came from that event and what your supporters will see done with those new funds raised.

Mediathon is one of our favorite events of the year. The key to its success is that we have an amazing community partner in WRAL, our local television and radio station. They donate a days-worth of radio and TV time and help sell sponsorships, to help us raise money to fight childhood hunger.

This year we raised more than $200,000 once all the funds were tallied up – that comes from both sponsorships and day-of call in donations and pledges. That money is all earmarked for our child hunger programs and this year it’ll help us open our brand new 7,000 sq. ft. Child Food Hub, a new warehouse dedicated to those programs.

Q: Any nonprofit event is made or broken by sponsors. How did you garner sponsorship and handle managing your sponsors?

We have an amazing development staff who works closely with WRAL to combine selling sponsorships that support the Food Shuttle’s mission but also give them amazing media coverage.  Our team has worked really hard to build a strong reputation in the community so that our partners know where their money is going and always have an open ear when we approach them with a new idea or opportunity.

Day-of we have probably 15 check presentations, so it takes being very organized to make sure everyone is there and feeling the love – but it’s so worth it!

Q: What was your volunteer process like for #BackPackBuddies?

BackPack Buddies is our most requested volunteer opportunity. Typically groups come in for an hour or two and help us sort food and then pack bags. It’s easy for corporate groups to do over lunch and people instantly take and can understand the mission of providing food to kids in need. We average more than 3,000 volunteer hours per month and literally couldn’t do it without our volunteers!

For Mediathon, we recruit shifts of volunteers from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to help us answer the phones and take donations. It’s a long day but those volunteer slots are always the first to fill up because it’s so fun to be on a TV set and see how the donations add up at the end of the day!

Q: Working with media can be challenging, but extremely crucial to the success of a charitable organization like Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. I’d love for you to tell me about your marketing strategies leading up to your Mediathon. I know you teamed up with WRAL-TV and MIX 101.5. How did you initiate those partnerships and what were they like?

We have enjoyed a close relationship with Capitol Broadcasting, WRAL’s parent company, before even my time here. We have a member of their team sit on our board and have had staff consistently work closely with them. However, it’s mainly a credit to their company that they are so engaged in the community – not just with us but they do major on-air mediathons with the SPCA and Salvation Army. For us, they film 4-5 segments on our programs. It’s amazing, in addition to the funds raised, we walk around with five videos professionally produced that we can use throughout the year to tell the story of our programs.

Q: You say you had more than a thousand donors call in or make online donations over the course of the mediathon. Which method did you emphasize for #BackPackBuddies.? Is it different or similar to the way you see with donations made throughout the rest of the year?

What’s neat about Mediathon is it ends up being this big number, and while we do get corporate donations, the majority come from $5 and $25 one-time donations. We have folks call in and say, I don’t have much myself but I don’t want children to go hungry so they give what they can. Every dollar matters and helps, it’s really an impactful day to see how everyone’s generosity adds up.

This year we changed our system so while people still called in, we pushed online and text2give options more, and even processed all of our call-in donations through our 4aGoodCause donation pages. It helped streamline our accounting!

Q: Did you find that most people wanted to give you their donation right away or at a time in the future? For those who set up future gifting, how do you collect those and close those donations? Are you making efforts to turn one-time donors into lifetime contributors to your nonprofit?

The majority of Mediathon donations are immediate. We do have a few pledges come through that we follow up with the week after the show. Recently we’ve also been pushing recurring monthly donations, which was a big thing we got the TV anchors to talk about this year. It’s consistent money that we can count on and really does feed a child every month.

Our development team does a great job of developing relationships with our donors, they follow up with our donors and try to get them engaged on a consistent basis.

Q: Reflecting on the event itself, did you learn anything from it? Do you have any advice for nonprofits who want to host similar fundraising events?

Find a great local media partner – they are out there and they want to help! Create a situation that’s a win-win for both, they receive advertising dollars and you receive donations. People are eager for good stories in their communities, highlight the great people you work with and the impactful work that you’re doing and you’ll be amazed at the generosity of people who want to help out!

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Ronald Pruitt

Ronald Pruitt

Ronald is the President and Founder of 4aGoodCause, a simple and effective fundraising CRM that specializes in earning recurring revenue for nonprofits through monthly giving. For 25 years, Ronald has had the joy of doing what he loves, building online solutions that make a difference in the world. He’s helped raise millions of dollars online for small nonprofits across the country. Connect with Ronald on LinkedIn.

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